Enough Project's John Prendergast on CNN’s World Right Now

Transcript from Enough Project Founding Director John Prendergast’s interview with Max Foster on CNN’s World Right Now.

Aired July 27, 2015 - 15:45 EDT.

FOSTER: Returning to one of our top stories now. U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to East Africa.

Now during his trip Mr. Obama has been trying to find a way to end the conflict raging in South Sudan. Now the President along with regional leaders have agreed that the warring sides must conclude a peace plan by August 17th. 

The conflict has forced more than 2 million civilians from their homes and the leaders say if the August deadline isn't met, they may apply "substantially increased sanctions and pressure" including even intervening with a military force.

FOSTER: Now not everyone agrees with adding sanctions or intervening. They say that's because the conflict isn't about politics but it's about money.

The Enough Project that actor George Clooney co-founded argues that some wars inside Africa are just too lucrative to end. Take a look at a segment from the group's video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

These shadow economies extend all the way to boardrooms in New York, London, Geneva, Dubai, and other international financial centers where money and assets are the most vulnerable and exposed to the region, law enforcement and regulatory authorities.

GEORGE CLOONEY: Real leverage for peace and human rights will come when the people who benefit from war will pay a price for the damage they case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: John Prendergast Co-founder of the Enough Project with Clooney, he joins me now from Washington. First of all your reaction to what you heard from President Obama and the other leaders in Africa so far to try to deal with some of the conflicts there?

PRENDERGAST: Well, I'm really pleased that President Obama's willing to engage personally. You know often Presidents who go on these foreign trips are encouraged to stay away from the controversial issues, the issues that seem to have no resolution, but he dove right in.

And that was really important and I think the message is real clear from the Administration here in Washington and that is that if there isn't an agreement by August 17th, there will be a ramping up of serious financial pressures. That's the right message to send to the leaders in South Sudan because they appear to have no interest in resolving their conflict internally, and are willing to continue to destroy their country for the power grab that both of them are making.

FOSTER: And they're able to do that aren't they, (inaudible) powers on your argument because a lot of the money being siphoned out of these countries is going out via European banks by American banks. If you close that off then you stop access to their funds, and that stops them perhaps pursuing some of these conflicts?

PRENDERGAST: Yes, I think one of the big things that has sustained many of the conflicts in Africa have been the extraordinary amount of money that is made in the context of war economies. There are diamonds and gold and oil and all other kinds of minerals, and of course as we all know, ivory from all the elephant poaching that are able to be plundered during conflict in the absence of rule of the law much more easily than they would in a situation of peace and a stable state where the rule of law held sway.

So you see that war has actually an economic advantage for those that fight it often, and their allies outside of the country, their collaborators outside of the country. And I think that's why we focused on going after. 

If you're going to create a raft of sanctions that's meaningful, you've got to go after all the people that are making money off these conflicts.

FOSTER: Are you confident they're doing that now though 'cause it does sound like a traditional diplomacy when you're listening to the speeches.

PRENDERGAST: Yes, it does sound like traditional diplomacy and I think that's why it was so important for President Obama to inject a little bit of realism, a little bit of account - potential accountability into the mix, the discussion that in fact business as usual which has created a horrible humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan, business as usual is not going to be acceptable any longer globally. And the U.S. will lead an effort to try to make that business as usual unacceptable. 

And it's going to be a difficult uphill battle but it's good to know that the administration is weighing in heavily in a positive way in this regard.

FOSTER: One of the things that you (inaudible) to not talk about failed states but to talk about hijacked states because as soon as you start talking about failing states the sort of sense that people have is to start injecting capital into the country to pump them back up. But by seeing them as hijacked states then perhaps you can offer them a type of aid that will help the people down below more?

PRENDERGAST: Yes, these are - these are states that are very successful frankly for the leaders that are ruling them. I mean they have hijacked the institutions of the state.

The security apparatus, the legal system, the taxing authority for their own personal enrichment, and to keep power. To maintain power by any means necessary. And I think as long as that's the case, and as long as international interventions and aid and all the rest of it don't address that fundamental kleptocracy at the core of these conflict states you're going to get a continuation of the situation because the incentives are all in favor of violently expropriating the assets and resources of the country.

FOSTER: OK, thank you very, very much indeed for joining us John Prendergast, with your thoughts on that and that big trip around Africa right now.